Why Your Car Is Overheating and What to Do

October 22nd, 2018 by


You’re driving along minding your own business without a care in the world when a blinking light on your dashboard catches your eye. Your trusty car that has treated you so well for so many countless weeks or months now has decided to ruin your day with an overheating engine.


Your first thought is that it must be a mistake. Maybe it’s not the car overheating, but there’s something wrong with the sensor? Maybe the warning will just go away all by itself? But, no, it doesn’t. Sorry, you actually do have a car overheating problem. It’s now time to test your skills and remember exactly what you’re supposed to do when your car overheats.


Your mind worries about whether you can even make it home or not. If you can, maybe everything will be alright. But you’re miles from home. And the warning light is not going away. It’s time to take action!


Dealing with it


There’s only one thing you absolutely must do when your car begins to overheat. Let it cool off! This means finding a safe spot on the side of the road, pulling over, and turning off the engine. Pronto!


When you see a warning telling you that your engine’s temperature is too high, the faster you act, the less chance there will be that you will be incurring expensive damage to your engine. The longer your car overheats, the more destructive the damage, and the higher repair costs will be.


If you’ve been in slow-moving traffic on a hot day, the problem might be that you’ve not been moving fast enough for air to enter the engine compartment to cool things off. Turn off the air conditioner and drive a little faster. That might solve the problem. The more air that goes into the radiator, the faster your engine will try to cool down. But if the temperature continues to rise, pull off and stop the car immediately.


Try to find the problem


Once you’ve stopped the car, open the hood and look for any common causes of the problem, such as an obstruction that might be blocking air from being pulled in by the engine’s cooling fan. Another common cause is that the radiator fan may not be working. If it doesn’t come on with the ignition switch, check if a breaker needs to be reset, or try replacing a fuse and see if that cures the problem and the radiator fan comes back on again.


Check the serpentine belt and pulley on the water pump. When the engine was running, did you notice a slipping or squealing sound coming from the engine? That could be caused by the belt slipping enough to keep the pump from spinning fast enough to circulate coolant around the engine. If anything is loose, tighten it with a wrench as best you can, and then drive to a dealer like Viking Motors as soon as possible to have the entire cooling system checked.


Carefully open the radiator cap. Using a rag or piece of cloth, wrap the cap so that any water that escapes will be absorbed and not get directly on your hands. Use gloves if possible, and then turn the cap very slowly to release the pressure gradually.


Once the cap is off, take a good look inside the radiator at the coolant level. If you can see water, then that’s probably not the problem. But more than likely, you won’t see any coolant at all. Check the overflow bottle. If it’s empty, refill it, and make sure the tube from the radiator hose reaches far enough into the bottle to allow coolant to flow freely back and forth and the coolant level to become normal again.


Check for an obvious leak in the hoses and around the radiator. If you see something wet or suspicious, the leak may be very small. Replacing the coolant until you can reach a proper service facility like Viking Motors is probably your best course of action.


If you don’t see any obvious leaks, replace the fluid with the proper mixture of water and anti-freeze until the radiator is full. If you don’t carry anti-freeze in your trunk, then use just plain water, but make sure it’s as clean and clear as possible or you may have a problem with excess sediment later on.


If you don’t have access to water, then try calling for help. If no help is available, wait until the engine cools down and drive the car toward the nearest service facility. But when the warning light comes on again, stop the car again and repeat the procedure until you get there.


Why is it overheating?


Your radiator may be simply low on fluid with no obvious leaks, or the issue could be that you haven’t checked the level recently and the coolant evaporated through normal daily operation. I’s still best to have the car checked as soon as possible. There could be a small leak that you don’t obviously see, or there could be other problems. Always remember that if your car overheats, there is a real problem that needs to be fixed.


Water pump


There could be a failure of your water pump. When your water pump can’t circulate engine coolant which is designed to remove excessive heat from the engine, it probably needs to be replaced. This situation will not fix itself and needs to be taken care of immediately.


Radiator blockage


When the engine coolant can’t flow properly through your radiator to be cooled off and dispense the heat generated by the engine, there can be something in the coolant that has clogged up the system. Flushing the coolant out and replacing it may cure the issue, but if not, then you need to find where the blockage is occurring and take care of it promptly.


Sticking thermostat


Your car’s thermostat opens and closes by sensing the temperature of the water coolant. It then opens when the coolant is too hot and closes when it’s too cool. If the thermostat sticks, it can’t open and close and probably and needs to be replaced. Thermostats are relatively inexpensive and they are usually quite easy to replace.


Blown head gasket


Overheating can cause the head gasket on your engine to “blow” or to begin leaking coolant from your car’s cooling system. When coolant escapes, air is sucked in and the engine’s temperature rises accordingly.


Plugged heater core


The heater on your car uses engine coolant to warm the air inside when there’s cold weather outside. Occasionally the heater “core” will become blocked, or plugged, with debris in the water. The coolant flow will then be restricted and your engine’s temperature will rise.


Other potential causes


The seal on the radiator cap may be leaking; the engine’s cooling fan may have malfunctioned; or there may be any number of other problems that can cause your engine to overheat. The best solution is to have your car inspected by a trained technician from a reputable dealer like one of our specialists at Viking Motors.


Minor repairs can include replacing a heater hose or thermostat, replacing the cooling fan wiring, or perhaps flushing out the antifreeze. More costly repairs can involve replacing the water pump or radiator, changing out the heater core, head gasket replacement or other replacements.


The car’s cylinder heads may also need to be pressure tested and checked for warping. The engine block could also have developed a crack from the excessive heat created by lack of coolant in the engine. And if your car has been overheating for a long period of time, the engine may seize up. This can require either a complete replacement or rebuild.


Often you may notice a hot smell coming from your engine, but there’s no warning from the temperature gauge. A good rule of thumb is to have your car inspected by a Viking Motors specialist. The problem could be something as simple as a plastic bag covering the radiator, or a small amount of oil could have spilled onto the engine from a recent change of oil. A more serious problem could be burnt wiring or a seized brake caliper that could be overheating the brakes. Trust our professionals to not only discover the problem, but to fix it properly and to your guaranteed satisfaction.


Overheating is not a joke


When your car overheats, it’s not a small matter to be taken lightly. It can cause cylinder head warping or cracks as well as a blown head gasket. These issues can cause coolant to become mixed with the oil with will ruin the engine’s bearings and ruin your engine completely.


The good news


Your engine’s cooling system operates exactly as it was designed to do with only the slightest amount of care and consideration on your part. So long as you keep clean coolant flowing freely through your engine and radiator, the system will pretty much take care of itself.


Once your car’s engine overheats, the likelihood of a repeat occurrence is much higher. The costs involved in fixing an overheating engine can be some of your car’s highest repair bills. Don’t take a gamble with your car’s cooling system. If it needs repair, come to the specialists at Viking Motors. Our team serves all Gimli & Arborg Chevrolet, Buick & GMC drivers with the finest service in the local area. Schedule your vehicle service appointment today for the best GM service, parts, accessories, tires and much more!